THE PRECIOUS JULES

By: Shawn Nocher

Published: June 28, 2022

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Fiction

4 stars

Family dramas seem to make excellent book club choices because usually there is always someone in the club who sees the situation differently from others. In this family drama, there are several viewpoints to look at and multiple ways this family can right a wrong from many years ago.

The Jules family is the perfect family…at least from the outside looking in. Hilary and Stone Jules have six children but have only raised five. After a devasting decision in 1977, to send Ella, the twin of Belle, to the Beechwood Institute, a home for retardants, the family dynamics are completely altered. Some feel it was a positive change and others feel the loss greatly.

Now, in 2009, the Beechwood Institute is closing and Hilary and Stone have arranged for a lawyer to fight for custody again of Ella after turning over guardianship to Loretta an employee at Beechwood. Loretta has come to think of Ella as her own and Ella hasn’t been home since 1977 even though her mom has continued to visit her every Thursday without question. Loretta can’t bear to imagine life without Ella in it but doesn’t have the means to fight them for custody in court. Plus, she has her own secrets to keep hidden.

She knows something of secrets, about the way they snack at a person, eating away at the core of who a person imagines themselves to be until all that’s left is a person you don’t recognize anymore.

The thing about secrets shared is that they are a bartering tool. They carry a price. The exchange of another secret of equal or greater value. When you hand one over, it is reasonable to expect one in return. A way to seal the deal, each person carrying a piece of the other and a way to ensure that the secret stays where it is newly planted.

The five siblings are returning home to question this decision and to try to understand why their aging parents would choose to bring Ella back home after everything that happened. Of course, when siblings return home, old disagreements and hurt feelings resurface and chaos is bound to happen. We know early on that a pivotal event occurred that pushed Stone and Hilary to send Ella to Beechwood, but it takes a good 3/4 of the novel to find out what the actual incident was and it was shocking.

All of his faith in her shattering that fateful day. Like the windshield of their car when she and Stone slid off I-83, the windshield smacking a low hanging branch and crackling into a web of fissures. Still there, still mounted in its framework, but useless, threatening to crumble at the slightest touch.

The siblings are at odds over Ella returning home. Most of them think it isn’t a great decision due to the level of care she needs, but a family dinner in the home is what Hilary is hoping will be the turning point for all of them to see it’s the right choice. Some of the siblings have visited Ella at Beechwood while others haven’t seen her since the day she left. How do you welcome a sibling home when you haven’t seen her since she was eight and she is now 39? Horrible memories of Ella’s tantrums or seizures have left them with no desire to see her again. But, if they only knew some of the things that were happening behind the doors of Beechwood, they might think a bit differently about Ella’s life away from home.

…he has always felt like the puzzle piece that got lost under the sofa. No one noticing its absence until everything else has been snapped into place.

The book travels back and forth in time to the 1970s when Ella and her siblings are young children in the Jules household and then to April 2009, as everyone is gathering together for a family dinner. We see each of their perspectives of the fateful day in 1977 as well as their thoughts on Ella’s return. We also see Loretta’s life story as she starts working at Beechwood and what led to her being Ella’s sole caretaker and guardian. Even with the jumping around in the timeline, I still found the story easy to follow and compelling to want to know what happened next.

Because of the numerous opinions related to children with Down Syndrome (this term is not used in the story due to the time frame), group home or institutional living, mental health and depression, having multiple siblings, or a mother giving up her child, I truly think this would make for an excellent book club read. I couldn’t find any discussion questions but did see on the author’s website that she is available for book club discussions.

The Jules family is imprinted on my heart. I can’t speak for or against any of their opinions but the story did give me something to think about. If you love family dramas with hot-button issues, this would be an excellent choice to add to your reading list.

SHAWN NOCHER is the author of the critically acclaimed novel A Hand to Hold in Deep Water. Her short stories and nonfiction articles have been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, MoonPark Review, Writer’s Digest, and Electric Literature, among others.

She teaches in the master of arts writing program at Johns Hopkins University, has given wings to two children, and lives with her husband and an assortment of sassy rescue animals in Baltimore, Maryland, where she writes in a room of her own. Visit her website, HERE.

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Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to make a purchase through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.
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